Should You Choose Fiberglass or Thermoformed Plastic for Your Products?

When it comes to creating, designing, and manufacturing custom plastics, there are several variables to consider. Choosing whether thermoforming or injection molding is right or blow molding or injection molding are important factors that determine the success of your product. Just as important as the method of production are the materials. While fiberglass has been used for everything from boats to bathtubs, thermoplastics may be a better option for your products. Our plastics manufacturing company is comparing the two to help you determine which one you should choose.

What Is Fiberglass?

Fiberglass (or glass-reinforced plastic) is a type of thermoset polymer, like epoxy, resin, or vinlyester, or a thermoplastic polymer that has been reinforced with glass fibers. It's a popular material because it's inexpensive, non-magnetic, non-conductive, and resistant to water. In fact, it's often used in swimming pools, water tanks, boats, pipes, and bathtubs.

To create fiberglass, the glass needs to be almost completely free of flaws and defects so it can have the necessary tensile strength. To achieve this, the glass is manufactured through pultrusion. Large furnaces melt together silica, limestone, kaolin clay, and other minerals until it's liquid. Then, it's pulled through bushings which are bundles of very thin tubes or sleeves to create long filaments. The filaments are coated with a chemical solution and bundled in groups to weave into the resin or laid in a chopped strand mat and held together with a chemical binder which is then embedded into the plastic.

Fiberglass Molding Methods

To achieve the desired shape, the fiberglass resin is applied in multiple thin layers within a mold, and as the layers build up, the desired product is created. First, a release agent is applied to make it easier to remove from the mold, followed by a gelcoat that is colored or tinted in the preferred outcome to give the exterior a more durable finish. After that, the fiberglass is applied, and once the desired thickness is achieved, it's allowed to cure.

Benefits and Challenges of Fiberglass

Fiberglass has been used for decades in a wide variety of goods, including doors, windows, exterior cladding, and boats. It's strong, durable, easy to clean, and flexible enough to not break when there's an impact.

However, there are challenges of using fiberglass. From a production standpoint, tooling is expensive and production rates are slow, leading to high costs and long lead times. Even more concerning is that once a fiberglass product is made, it's almost impossible to recycle. Instead, it just takes up space a landfill.

Thermoforming Plastics Instead of Fiberglass

Thermoforming involves taking a large sheet of thermoplastic, heating it until it's pliable, then fitting it around a custom tool. Using a vacuum or pressurized air, the plastic is then pulled or pressed into the tool, creating an accurate impression of the desired shape.

Typically, thermoplastic olefin is used in place of fiberglass because it has similar, if not better performance regarding UV exposure, temperature resistance, water resistance, and impact resistance. Because it is so lightweight while being strong, it's often used in automobile thermoforming as well as making all terrain vehicles, outdoor furnishings, and home exterior elements.

Benefits and Challenges of Thermoformed Plastic

Thermoforming offers several benefits to companies, including cost, lead time, customization, and environmental impact. Designing and fabricating tooling is less expensive and significantly faster than creating a mold used to shape fiberglass, and the production itself is significantly faster. A sheet of thermoplastic can be fitted to a tool, shaped, and trimmed in a much shorter time than the fiberglass layers can be applied. Also, thermoformed plastics can have coatings applied that improve durability, improve UV resistance, minimize static, or they can have decoration and texture added.

Once complete, thermoformed plastics have a long life span, but can also be recycled in most cases. This minimizes the environmental impact and reduces waste.

Contact Us for Custom Thermoformed Plastics

At Advanced Plastiform, Inc., we are dedicated to providing the best possible service to our customers, and this means manufacturing a great product at a low price and with a fast lead time. From our design and engineering team to our manufacturing crew, we all strive to create the perfect pieces for your vehicle or vehicle parts that add safety, value, and durability to vehicles. If you're ready to make the switch from molded fiberglass to thermoformed plastic, reach out to us today. We proudly serve seven states, including North CarolinaSouth CarolinaPennsylvaniaMarylandTennesseeGeorgia, and Virginia.

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